2008-02-09

Forecast: Adobe will open source its Flash technology to delay its downturn

Macromedia´s Flash technology revolutionized the web and this was obviously one of the reasons why Adobe has acquired Macromedia. Flash facilitated browsers to play multimedia content and allowed users to interact with this content.

The shady sides of Flash are:

  • The technology base is quite old
    • It is written in C or C++ which is good for performance but horrible for code maintenance and platform independence efforts. High level languages like Java or C# is much better suitable for such kind of applications today.
  • There is still no 64 bit version of Flash. This is especially on x64 Linux machines a problem because you have either to run a x86 browser or a flash wrapper. However both consume much CPU time because Flash occasionally was treated very stepmotherly as it was ported to Linux.
  • Flash content cannot be read by search engine crawlers because the content is stored in binary form. In the times of the semantic Web 2.0 such binary content producing technologies are not appreciated very much.
  • Flash is available only as a proprietary implementation maintained by Adobe.

But are there alternatives? Yes there are even two different alternatives: One comes from Sun Microsystems and is known as Java FX and the other was created by Microsoft and is called Silverlight. As Silverlight is much more mature than Java FX, I want to mention some of the advantages of Silverlight:

  • Silverlight was written in C#, which is a modern standardized language, which was made with RAD in mind.
  • Its applications are written in XAML which belongs to the XML family.
    • Silverlight content can be crawled by search engines because it is not binary.
  • There is a free open source implementation of Silverlight called Moonlight which is written in C# and Mono as target framework. Hence it can easily be made available as x86 or x64 version. Furthermore the open source community does not depend on the mercy of corporations to develop Moonlight as it is demanded by the open source community.

As a consequence of the threat comes from Silverlight for the obscure Flash technology and endangers its market share, Adobe will do what Sun Microsystems have done with their technology which lost market share: Adobe will dump the Flash source code to the open source community. Sun Microsystem has done the same with Solaris and Java. Both technologies lost market share and were endangered by Linux resp. .NET. Corporations acting in this way demonstrate their openness, transparence and goodwill. This PR strategy influences the image of the corporations positively making them "less evil" and "greedy". But the nature of the economical paradigm of corporations stays the same: Corporations are rational actors and therefore their decisions are always strategic driven. Making Flash open source, Adobe will give up a part of their "intellectual property" power but give Flash hereby a better competitive position and increase its overall power potential: Flash acceptance will grow near-term due Adobe´s PR driven action of "goodwill" and the openness of Flash. Nevertheless Flash will become long-term insignificant because Silverlight offers simply the better technological basis than Flash.